With a luxurious and decadent flavour, Champagne has been popular with wine-drinkers for generations. To find out more about the House of Krug, one of France's most well-respected Champagne houses, we spoke to tasting committee member Alice Tetienne.
Born in Champagne, Alice understood from an early age how important the wine is to her region. After undertaking seven years of study in viticulture and oenology, she worked in many different regions, including Bordeaux, Burgundy and Provence, before returning home to Champagne. Now she is one of the industry's most highly specialised winemakers, with qualifications including Master Vine and Terroir, a National Diploma of Oenology, a Master Wines and Champagne qualification and more under her belt. Here, we talk to Alice about her position in the House of Krug and what she envisions for the region going forward.
What do you do on a daily basis?
"I’m part of the wine-making team and tasting committee at Krug. We work communally, so every member of the team does the tastings, tries the blend, helps to decide on the wine-making process. Everyone also has a speciality and mine is to be in charge of the relationship with the growers. In Champagne, the soil and the vine are the property of the growers so we own about 20% of the vineyards and we buy 80% of the grapes directly from the growers. We have a very specific relationship with the growers so I help them with viticultural practices, with the date of harvest and more. Every day I’m in the vineyard with them to follow the vine.
How did you decide to specialise in Champagne?
"I was born in Champagne and grew up there. It’s a region where winemaking is very important and a lot of people make their living off of it. I had easy access to this industry and when I was younger and I worked in the vineyards to get some money for the summer. I was really curious and it was something I liked a lot, so I started to study this industry and I loved it. I worked with some of these growers when I was younger and it’s such a small region that everyone knows each other."
Have you seen much development in the region since you started working?
"Champagne has been spotlighted for a long time but today there is development in terms of new consumers we have. Our environment is a part of our development. Champagne is really changing because of the environment. To still be spotlighted and so popular, we have to keep changing and adapting. The vineyards have changed since I first started working there, I can see the development in the places I used to work. Over the next few years, we’ll see more grass in the vineyard and see the work of the soil as we progress. We’re starting to look a little more towards older practice to incorporate them again.
The idea is to find a balance that won’t change the profile of our final Champagne. Climate change is something that has had a big impact on the wine but we’ve adapted our practices and the date of harvest to make sure there’s no impact on the quality of the wine. It’s our goal to make sure the profile doesn’t change, we work every day to respect our Champagne and the House of Krug."
How has climate change affected winemaking in Champagne?
"Our climate has been full of extremes for the past few years, we have more rain, higher temperatures in the summer, but before it was more linear. We lose more of our yield because of frost and hailstones. During the harvest last year, the sweetness parameter of the grape changed very quickly due to the high temperatures. We had to follow the vine so carefully because you can lose what you’re looking for in the grape in just one day. In 2018, the sugar increased very quickly, so we had to taste the grape every day and choose the date of harvest on the day to make sure we didn’t lose the profile we need. We need to be so precise, so we need to be in the vineyard every day.
Champagne is a very fragmented region, we have 34,000 hectares of vine in 278000 plots, so you can imagine the diversity we have in terms of terroir, micro-climate and more. So the date of harvest is different for every vineyard, so we follow every plot and have to decide for each individually. Our goal is to spotlight the personality of the terroir so we have to adapt for each plot."
We've seen a lot more women join the winemaking industry over the past few years, have you seen this in Champagne too?
"Women add something else to wine. There still isn’t a complete gender balance today but it’s changing, which is good to see. In the past, female winemakers and oenologists were in the laboratories. Now, women are in the cellar too and they’re part of the tasting and winemaking teams, which is really nice to see. It’s good to see other points of view and personalities because it adds more to the experience. We’re still at the beginning of it though. In the House of Krug, there a lot of women in every part of the business. The president is a woman and the winemaking team has three women and three men. When tasting wine you need to have a balance of gender, ages and types of people to make sure the wine is great. We don’t all have the same sensibilities, so each person has something else to offer to the process. It helps the house to have a mix of men and women.
It’s changing in vineyards now too because the work is very manual so historically it was male-dominated. When you’re in tasting rooms, however, it’s not manual, so you need men and women. The whole industry is changing, everything is more open. Champagne, historically, has had a lot of women create the houses like Veuve Clicquot was a woman. When we had the war in our country, the men were fighting so women made the wine at this time, so it’s normal in Champagne to have women involved in our wine."
Read more about the House of Krug here.